Sept. 2, 2009
Throughout the storied history of Clemson football, there have been many teams that could be characterized as “great.” But there is one squad that has set the benchmark that each successive squad strives to reach…the 1981 National Championship team.
With its win over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl, that particular team established a legacy that remains an integral part of Clemson’s tradition on the gridiron. This legacy has been passed down to a new generation, as fathers look to inspire their sons to strive for greatness.
Four players on the 2009 squad know of the legacy of the 1981 team all too well, as their fathers were members of the most successful team in Tiger history.
Sophomore offensive tackle Landon Walker heard his father Gary talk about that magical season many times in his formative years. Not only did his stories about Clemson in the past have an impact on his development as a player and person, but it has also had an effect on Clemson in the present and will have an effect on Clemson in the future, as Gary’s stories were a primary reason Landon wound up in Tigertown.
“He talked about what a great experience it was for him to be on a team like that,” the North Wilkesboro, NC native said. “It’s not often that someone gets to experience a national championship, and that influenced my decision to come here.”
Although he stated that the voice of his father has begun to give way to those of his coaches at Clemson, Landon also credited his dad for much of his progression throughout his football career.
“Growing up, he would always try to critique my techniques,” Landon said. “He’s tried to help me along the way.”
Junior quarterback Michael Wade has taken the lessons learned from that season and applied them to his own Clemson experience. His father Mike was a walk-on member of the 1981 squad who earned a letter as a defensive end and special teams player. He was known as a hard worker, both on and off the field.
Michael, who has also seen some time as a reserve safety for the Tigers, carries himself in a similar fashion, not taking anything for granted during his Clemson experience.
“My dad had that walk-on mentality that you have to work for everything you get,” the former Riverside (SC) High School standout said. “That’s what I’ve learned since I’ve been here. I haven’t had anything given to me. You have to work for it. When you get reps out there, you have to make the best of it.”
Michael was also impressed with the camaraderie that his father shared with his teammates, a relationship that continues to this day.
“They have reunions now, and when they come back, it’s like they never left,” he added. “They spent so much time together back then. When they come back now, I see them giving hugs to each other.
“We don’t have that ability to bond as closely as they did because they lived together, ate together, and did everything together. Coach (Dabo) Swinney is doing a good job of having team functions so that we’re interacting more than we did in the past.”
Senior running back Ronald Watson has taken several important pieces of advice from his father, also named Ronald, who was a reserve cornerback on the national championship team. This advice has allowed him to remain focused and well-grounded during his time as a Tiger.
“My dad taught me to go out and give 100 percent all the time,” the Mauldin, SC native and civil engineering major said. “You can’t worry about things you can’t control. You have to go out there and give it your best, have no regrets, and have fun doing it.”
Sophomore defensive end Chris Richardson was intrigued by the stories of togetherness that his father Chuckie told him concerning the overall team atmosphere. Chuckie was a reserve linebacker in 1981.
“It was a great ride for him,” Chris said. “For the four or five years that he was here, he always talked about working hard and having a good relationship with his teammates, being together, and working as one. He’s been saying that Clemson teams have to get better at having that connection to get back to winning championships again.”
Although they did not get to see the 1981 Tiger team on the field, all four of these players believe the 2009 bunch has some similar qualities to that historic unit. They are hopeful that this season can be as special for them as it was for their fathers.
“It’s history here…everybody talks about that,” Wade added. “I guess that goes to show that you have to work from the day you get here. We’re working right now, we worked in the offseason, and hopefully that will pay off.”
William Qualkinbush, a junior from Central, SC, is a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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